JUST SAY NO

Occasionally venting just helps – so let us give it a go.

The other night while dining in a fine restaurant, a singer with guitar walks in and announces to all the diners she is traveling through Mexico and would like to sing for us.

The warbler belts out a couple of short (thank you for that anyway), horrendous renditions of some old Mexican standards. Then quick as a flash a felt bag is placed in front of each table of diners asking for a propina (tip) for the effort.  The first night I fell for this intimidation and forked over 20 pesos.

The second time we encountered this supposed talent we just said no. In my defense the first encounter the girl had brought another girl to accompany on conga drum; it seemed more difficult to deny the two of them. Twenty pesos is said to be the minimum amount one pays for each tune WHEN REQUESTING this personal entertainment. Of course it is cheaper than hiring Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band to play at your birthday party.

In Xico roaming Mariachi Bands go from restaurant to restaurant doing much the same as the girl(s) described above – add that they usually go to each table asking if you would like them to play for you – at least they ask.

In Mexico you can be accosted at a traffic signal where some person starts spraying water on your clean windshield while at the same time you are screaming NO!

Or jugglers dart out in front of halted traffic waiting for a green light. They have it timed so before the change to green they are at your window looking for a tip for this entertainment. Sometimes there are literally a band of them; occasionally the juggled wands are on fire.

While ‘clubbing” the other night in Zipolite, a couple of fire brandishing juggling and jiggling females came in right during a stage performance by a salsa band. After a few minutes, they went around to customers that were trying to enjoy the music with tiny tambourines inverted to hold donations. We had seen them in the middle of the Adoquin earlier in the evening working the street.

There is a girl in that photo brandishing fire – look carefully

We have been on many a local bus trip here in Mexico where some toy-like $15 guitar is being hacked at while someone who could get arrested for singing in the shower assaults the peace and quiet of the creaky, brake screeching Mexican bus. A short tune and then the outstretched palm. You are the sponsor with no agreement or request.

Here in Mexico we have simply been walking along a side walk when we encounter a three or four piece band that usually includes wooden vibes, string bass and guitar and one or two hombres that could not sing their way out of a paper bag. Often there is a ‘collector’ who runs around with a bag or cup – doing nothing else but intimidation for profit.

Apparently without even attending psychology 101 these people have figured out that many will pay out of embarrassment – sometimes when it is in-your-face you just cannot say no.

Here is the deal – if I want to be entertained I am willing to pay for it. But I am not willing to shell dough out to someone that forces their talent or lack thereof upon me – period.

Obviously, bus line, restaurants, police and community policies tolerate this for the most part. I am less tolerant and will avoid this jail house entertainment (a captured audience) as often as possible.

If you are coming to Mexico, you might want to practice in front of a mirror , say it with me now, “NO!“  Practice this a lot – you will be glad you did. Stay Tuned!

  • Kim G

    This is a problem in the subway in Boston. Frequently there are musicians whom I would consider paying to not play. Unfortunately this is seldom (if ever) an option.

    I’m thrilled with street performers who can really entertain. Not everyone is going to have the talent of a group that can record a top-40 song. But I’m happy enough to pay decent musicians. However, the ones who can hardly sing should (in my view) find something else to put food on the table.

    It seems in Mexico that it’s easier to say “No, thanks” to such people and be left alone than it is here in the USA. Apparently not true in your example.

    Buena Suerte!

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where you’ve given us the idea that perhaps we can fund our retirement in Mexico with our accordion….LOL.

  • http://sparksmex.blogspot.com/ sparks

    We have both good and bad musicians show up at our favorite beach restaurant but this one guy can neither sing or play the guitar. Every Sunday he shows up electrified and is so bad we’ve never contributed. As he plays his 4-5 songs other good musicians pass by respecting his space. I’d consider paying him to go away but we are patient.
    In a Chapala waterfront restaurant there were 3-4 Mariachi groups in the ‘battle of the bands’ with one starting off as soon as another group finished a song. They were good and amazing how they did not step on each others songs. That was fun and they didn’t hit up every table in the area

  • Steve Cotton

    Almost all of the “musicians” in my portion of Villa Obregon are painfully bad. The one guy who is good plays playfully loud. I do not pay. If the “musician” is foolish enough to ask why, I tell him in detail. After a few “no tip” experiences, I am given wide berth. Some things in Mexico are not pleasant. This is one.

  • Steve Cotton

    I hope you have seen My Favorite Year. You are too funny to play the accordion.

  • Rick

    Here in Santa Monica, Ca street musicians must audition and obtain a permit to play in public. They are assigned a time and place to ‘do their thing’. Very often they are quite talented but everyone seems to be in too much a hurry to listen to them.

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    Rick – “street musicians must audition” amazing! There would be no one with enough talent to qualify down here in our part of Mexico.

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    I guess we should take your lead. I certainly cannot disagree with anything you write on the subject.

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    I am not sure where you are at the moment Sparks – but it sounds a lot like here.

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    Kim – yea sure I like the accordion idea (lol). Being a libertarian – it grates on me that I should even have to consider paying someone for their having performed in some fashion without so much as a request from me.- and then stand there with their handout like we had some tacit or otherwise agreement – just cannot get past that.

  • http://vivaveracruz.com/blog John Calypso

    Steve has a point there Kim ;-)

  • DonCuevas

    Our friends recently paid the singer-guitar player at the Rancho La Mesa Restaurant in Pátzcuaro. It was by our request, and for once, the entertainer was good. There is approximately one (1) entertainer in Pátzcuaro Centro whom we enjoy listening to: Gregorio Cruz. You can see and hear him on YouTube. The rest tend to be off key, one chord, guitar maulers. I’m sorry, but the worst are the prepubescent kids who scrape a Coke bottle and sing off key but loudly. We don’t contribute. I’m sure their economic circumstances are dire, but my heart won’t soften as they wail their dirges.

    Saludos,
    Don Cuevas

  • John Calypso

    Don Cuevas as Kim so aptly pointed out – it would be better to pay them to NOT play. ;-0 May I ask how much of a ‘donation’ is appropriate – because I really have no idea.

  • tancho

    Seems like there are good and horrible, nothing in between that figure out that 10 pesos is better than no pesos and they are too old to wash car windows. In Patzcuaro I have not encountered squeegee boys, but in Morelia they are plentiful. We stopped giving them the guilty pesos after awhile, now I don’t even roll the window down anymore and never give them eye contact.
    The main hangout restaurant in Patzcuaro has some really horrible performers. There is a trio of old men that their average age is around 75 that think they can play or even sing. As soon as they start setting up, it’s my cue to rapidly ask for the check and usually 2 or 3 other tables follow…maybe the restaurant hires them to have the tables vacate. There is also a young kid who we have seen grow up, when he started trying to sing at the age of about 7, he is about 15 now, and he is one that has no idea of how he sounds. I usually will tell him that he will make more money by asking people for stop singing money.
    The best ones we have seen is a family of gringo looking kids that is chauffeured around in a van from restaurant to restaurant in Mazatlan, after the horrible singing they would send one of the kids to park themselves with a donation bucket at each table. Then the waiting game starts….who will break first.
    I stopped being nice guy a long time ago!

  • John Calypso

    There is a running theme here about the quality of the ‘talent’. My feeling is if Tom Petty came to my table without asking and started playing then asked for money – I would refuse – well maybe not Tom Petty, but the point is the lack of an agreement to pay PRIOR to any entertainment effort. I just do not cotton to it – (see Steve’s glib comments below ;-)

  • http://www.facebook.com/radink9 Ross James Alexander V

    Did i miss the comments on Mumford and sons or was that a teaser? Also several friends of mine are discussing the best “classic” rock song. We have it narrowed down to two. Eagles, Hotel California, and Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven. what say you?

  • John Calypso

    Have not done Mumfords yet ;-( So many things to ‘talk’ about.

    Not possible to have a ‘best’ song anything -there are way too many great ones for that; so, sorry cannot chime in on that one.

  • barbara eckrote

    In Mexico, if the entertainers are Mexican – be they windshield wipers, kids selling chichle or purported singers, a wag of the index finger on the right hand for some reason stops them dead in their tracks and they leave. I was given that advice by someone who grew up here over 60 years ago. It’s a miracle each time I do it and each time they move on………try it!
    BTW, I feel as you do, I don’t tip unless I’ve asked for the service………..

  • barbara eckrote

    NO street musicians in San Miguel – they must get a permit and pay for it!

  • John Calypso

    Babs – I had learned that finger wave from my Latino father-in-law some years ago and it does almost always work in the car – but the example here where these people invade an entire restaurant is a bit different – and as you suggest at the end of the day give them nothing.

  • John Calypso

    We are not that sophisticated here in Puerto Escondido or Xico ;-(

  • Kim G

    This post really seems to have struck a nerve! LOL

    I wanted to add that most of the musicians in DF are fairly good. In Café Tacuba, the restaurant hires or permits the same group of musicians and I’m happy to pay them a tip even if I didn’t make a request. In Plaza Garibaldi the musicians are also pretty good, and in other spots there are plenty of good street musicians.

    So if y’all get tired of your bad street musicians, a trip to DF is in order.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, MA
    Where we are planning such a trip ourselves, though not for the music.

  • John Calypso

    Usually if the restaurant hires entertainment and they have a tip jar/bowl – I am fine with helping defer the cost – but this is not that. And of course if it is on merit and of value in a case like that – again fine for a propina. But these vagabond types that really are not musicians – rather beggars with a (bad) hook – no pay – no way.

  • Andean

    When the propina jar gets passed around, a No, thank you, with a smile, seems to confuse or amuse. For some reason, “they” always look surprised. I am neither… We all have choices.

  • John Calypso

    Andean – true we all do have choices – some are harder to make than others ;-0

  • Andean

    Exactly : )